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The last of the great silent Italian epics, The Last Days of Pompeii is as lavish as anything produced by Hollywood at that time - only much, much raunchier. During an orgy in the house of the evil priest Arbaces, naked slave girls are served up (literally!) on platters decked with flowers. A nubile mummy rises out of her sarcophagus to do a striptease and bare-breasted sphinx statues come to life as her chorus line. In the gladiators' tavern, wildly effeminate men (kohl-dark eyelids and lipstick as thick as clotted blood) drool and bat their eyes over so much naked, muscular flesh. All in all, the most satisfyingly decadent Ancient Rome saga until Fellini Satyricon in 1968!
In between the orgies and the rampant homoeroticism, directors Amleto Palermi and Carmine Gallone stick close to the Victorian melodramatics of Bulwer-Lytton's novel. The blind flower girl Nydia (Maria Korda) loves the dumb but good-hearted hunk Glaucus (Victor Varconi) who prefers the demure and aristocratic Ione (Rina de Liguoro). Ione, alas, is lusted after by the villainous Arbaces (Bernhard Goetzke) who also has a close...er...friendship with her brother Apicedes. A gorgeous young ephebe who resembles an Aubrey Beardsley angel, Apicedes can find nothing better to do than convert to Christianity. The best way, apparently, to 'wash himself clean of sin.'
You can always spot the Christians in these movies. They're the un-photogenic ones - the ones with glum faces and no jewels. But piety is no guarantee of salvation once Mount Vesuvius finally blows its top. The Grand Finale incorporates newsreel footage of an real volcanic eruption - so we're treated to the anachronistic but wholly delightful sight of two cameramen in modern dress, scurrying down the slopes to escape the burning lava! We watch, well-pleased, as the opulent sets crumble into still-more-opulent ruins. No, they really don't make 'em like that anymore! Not that anybody these days would have the nerve.
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